Now like I say, I got this book as an advanced reader copy although now it is available for public consumption, so that was cool. The copy I read may have had some minor differences and the final edition will have been edited a bit more. I’m new to the ARC reviewing thing, so I’m not 100% on how it goes. It was a pleasure and a privilege, and I did pass on a few comments and questions to the author that won’t be a part of this review. This review is just going to be about the book.
And an excellent book it was! Having read some of Hayes’ fantasy and finding it enjoyable in a dark sort of way, I was keen to see his take on sci-fi. So let me get right to it by saying this is a hearty recommendation from your old pal Edpool. Titan Hoppers is a “progression fantasy”, a subgenre I hadn’t heard of before but I assure you is a thing. A thing like a video game power-up sequence, where the character gets in situations and then unlocks different skills and power levels as they go. Fascinating stuff.
Humanity has faced a mysterious calamity and the survivors are tooling around out in space. Their only source of resources – food and water and fuel – is the Titan: a huge alien vehicle crammed with weird tech, trap-filled labyrinths, massive facilities and just a fucking country ton of monsters. So that’s the premise. They fly their clapped-out ships up to the giant haunted space house, and loot it.
That’s not all the Titan provides, though – it also gives the human intruders powers. Some of them, anyway. Society is divided into the techs (who weren’t granted powers), the Hoppers (who were), and the officers (who are generally former or failed Hoppers … I think). But there is a lot more to fleet society than meets the eye – and a lot of human history that has been forgotten … or erased.
So. The Hoppers go aboard the Titan in pods to collect stuff and fight the monsters that swarm to any human intrusion or expression of magic. The Hoppers, and the fleet in general, are divided into different types – Paladins and Corsairs are the main ones here – as well as being divided between the lower, mid and upper ships, in terms of economies and resources and political power. The upper ships and the quasi-noble legacy families rule the fleet in a sort of double-axis of class disparity that makes for a volatile mixture of injustice, inequality and simmering resentment.
Into this bubbling mixture we sprinkle a generous seasoning of Iro, a wannabe Paladin on one of the poorest ships. Having lost his big sister, a heroic bay leaf of – look, I’m just going to abandon the culinary metaphor at this point. When the Titan explodes, taking Iro’s sister and many more fine Hoppers with it, the fleet limps off into space looking for … another Titan, maybe, or just some other source of materials. Aren’t there planets in space? It doesn’t seem like that’s how space works in this story. Not this part of space anyway.
Still, Iro has more or less given up on his dreams of levelling up, and the fleet is running on fumes when they arrive at another Titan. A whole new Titan, and a whole lot of new humans in a whole separate fleet. They don’t have the energy or capacity to contact them, which is a bit weird, but they settle down to attempting to harvest the massive alien derelict for parts. And that’s when things really start to get exciting!
This is a page-turnin’, space-adventurin’, science-magickin’ bit of fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Hayes has done it again.
With mainly teenage or otherwise young adult protagonists, there’s some Drama and Feelings™ here but not really any sex. We’re probably heading that way but for now our young heroes are just getting themselves set up. There’s too much salvaging and monster fighting and magic training to do, really, to worry about all that. A Nice Guy passport with a single stamp in it out of a possible One Sex.
Plenty of gore! We have a big old alien behemoth filled with vicious and weird traps, and masses of horrible bloodthirsty monsters. The gore levels could actually be higher than it ended up, given the setting. Room for improvement, but I was well satisfied with the three flesh-gobbets out of a possible five for this one.
It’s left tantalisingly unclear how the first Titan was found, how they knew there’d be another one, and lots of other things. The stalling question, and the un-stalling question, don’t even get me started. There’s so much lovely WTF to play with here. Things go from weird to weirder as the denizens of the new Titan reveal themselves, and we’re left with a cliffhanger and a whole lot of unanswered questions. And now we have to wait for Hayes to write the next one! Gaaaaah… anyway, according to the WTF-o-meter, Titan Hoppers gets a Diablo 2 skill tree with a partridge in it out of a possible Skyrim skill tree with a couple of Odins in it.
Amazing setting and premise, and great characters make this story well worth picking up. Okay, Emil is just a little bit too much of a shitbird to be sympathetic, but I guess you have to make allowances for a rough upbringing. And Alfvin is just weapons-grade crazy. Four stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale.